Thursday, November 27, 2008

Slap the GAP

The University of Calgary earned some social justice points yesterday after the anti-choice pro-life campus group set up its hideous posters [LINK and LINK]. I don't understand the University's change of heart, though, because the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) has set up its booth in the past with the U of C's permission, citing free speech (the same group which drove a foetus van around Calgary). It makes me wonder why an internal group is threatened with legal action but an external organization is given the green light. I dug back into the Calgary Feminist Meetup Group's message board from 2006 when the GAP set up at the U of C and one user wrote the University requesting an explanation for why such a hateful message would be supported by student council and I will reiterate her reported response from External Relations:

Every year pro-life approaches us on their project and every year we have to struggle with a determined group of students firmly wishing to see it happen and an equally determined group who want to keep it away. It should be noted that the “GAP” agenda is to cause controversy and confrontation in order to generate the widest possible dispersal of their message. We at the Students' Union haves struggled with this group not over their message but rather in the sensational, aggressive, and ultimately hurtful way they choose to propagate it. Understanding this we have to try and balance the needs of the student body to conduct their daily business in a safe and comfortable environment with the obligation to honor the principle (and law) of the freedom of _expression. This year our compromise with the pro-life club was that they would be able to display their material on the South Lawn if they agreed to a) have the display encircled by a snow fence, b) place warning signs in front of their display warning students of the offending images ahead, and c) have the billboards facing inwards so that students would have to walk into the display willingly rather then be passively exposed to it. We thought this was a reasonable compromise the pro-life club however refused our terms over condition c) and threatened a legal challenge. We discontinued communication and redirected them to the university.

I think the universities position on this issue can best be summed up in this excerpt from Vice-President Roman Cooney's message to another concerned and angered student on this issue:

"...I, too, find this exhibit extremely offensive and let me assure you that the University does not, in any way, sanction this event. Our dilemma is that the law is quite clear. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms we could not compel the group to reorient their signs so that people on campus would have a choice as to whether or not to participate. We made numerous requests to have the signs face inward, or be located in another spot, and these were rejected by the group and its legal counsel.
For the same reasons we are not in a position to tell the group what it can, and cannot, display. The alterative was a lengthy and costly court fight that has already been lost on other campuses. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular those sections regarding freedom of _expression, Campus Pro-Life has the legal right to display these images, regardless of their impact on the community. In law, error falls on the side of the greatest latitude for freedom of _expression. Therefore, the choice for the University was not whether to endorse or reject this display, but whether to reject or uphold the principle of freedom of _expression. If you believe in the Charter, you must believe in the principles it upholds, even when those principles are being abused, as I believe they are in this case.

In fact, I agree with many of your points. But the University cannot ignore the law and more importantly the principles behind it.

I would urge you to contact the organizers through Drew Brown at and share your views. I think it is important that others on campus express their concerns about the confrontational manner in which this group makes its argument.

Your points are well taken, but they need to be raised with the organizers, who are ultimately responsible for this display.


Roman Cooney
Vice-President, External Relations"

I hope this helps in your understanding of the issue and some of the work and thought that has gone into this before allowing pro-life display on campus.


Bryan west
President of the 63rd Student Legislative Council
I dot support the GOP's booth set up nor the campus pro-life's sick signs. But why the double standard? Upon further investigating, it seems that American-based GAP has a powerful legal team that sues any organization standing in its way and the University of BC's relationship with them goes way back... U of C just doesn't seem to want to dig its heals in against the powerful GAP and risk a lawsuit. Perhaps the U of C could use UBC-Okanagan as a shiny example of bravery in this campus pro-life organization's behaviour:

VICTORIA (CUP) — A ruling out of the B.C. Supreme Court has supported one student union’s decision to revoke a campus pro-life group’s club status.

Legal cases instigated by a pro-life student group is expected to have cost the student union at UBC–Okanagan about $45,000 as they successfully defended their right to not support the club.

Though the student union does not have a pro-choice mandate, they have not supported Students For Life since 2006, after the group refused to grant the student union’s request that they not poster campaign material from the Genocide Awareness Project, which included graphic images of aborted foetuses.
All in all, I'm pleased the University took a stand against the pro-lifers' violent "comparable" abortion posters (a Rwandan child killed by a machete, to name one) and support the committed pro-choice students and staff's actions against the foetus fetishists' desperate attempts at argumentum ad populum that really just piss people off.

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